Becoming a Liberal Christian IV: Unforced Rhythms of Grace

faith

It’s taken me a while to finish up this blog series, so bear with me here. If you want to be reminded of previous blog posts, check out I, II, and III. Also, I was planning another blog post to be IV, but the writing spirit wasn’t moving me, so here is what I have to say next.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Chronicles of Narnia regarding Aslan (a Jesus-like figure):

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

I have heard it said that Jesus came to disturb the comforted and comfort the disturbed. Walking with Jesus is not a walk through lilacs, unicorns, and lollipops, nor is it walking on egg shells to appease a God with his eyes narrowed, finger outstretched, and ready to strike people down who don’t do (a politically conservative understanding) of his will.

In high school I read a passage in Matthew 25 that chilled me to the core. I’ll summarize it for you here. Jesus tells a parable about the end of times: there will be “sheep” on one side and “goats” on the other. Jesus tells the ones on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will be like, “Lord, when did this happen?” And Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Then the wicked on the other side, who did not do these things, Jesus said, “Go away to eternal punishment.”

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I didn’t get it. My cultural expectations of how life should go (good grades–> good college–> good husband–> good babies–> good job) did not matching up to the haunting words of Jesus.

This passage troubled my sleeping and waking hours. I had to ask myself, Where am I missing Jesus?

Then came the multitude of other questions: Am I a sheep or goat in this parable? What will God say to me at the end of my life? Will I have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, and invited into my life the “lepers and tax collectors” of my day OR will I have lived a comfortable life with Jesus bumper stickers and exemplary church attendance, and will I have missed it?

Will I have missed it?

Mother Teresa once said, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”

I will never forget the first time I saw Jesus (note: not literally).

As I was thinking about what it meant to serve the “least of these,” I was helping kids with severe autism swim every week to fulfill a high school physical education requirement. I bonded with a nonverbal, adorable child with autism I’ll call K. The passage swam around in my mind, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

One day, I was praying, Lord, I don’t want to miss you. At that moment, I looked into K’s expansive blue eyes, and I got a sense that I was on holy ground (or more realistically, holy water because we were swimming). I got a tangible sense that God’s physical presence was with me. This eerie feeling is nothing that I could verbalize then nor now.

I felt God saying, This is what I want to teach you right now. I know this narrative has a “privileged, upper-middle class white Christian girl has spiritual revelation” feel, which is not what I intend for this to be… because you know what: it wasn’t about me. It never was.

In that moment of being K in the water, I got a small sliver of God’s upside-down Kingdom. In the standards of the world, the rich get ahead, and those with disabilities are to be pitied and discarded. This boy blessed me more than I can describe. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t talk eloquently, or at all, or that he wouldn’t amount to what society deems as “successful.” None of that mattered because this boy was beautiful and highly favored. K. had something special that I did not have, something I can never comprehend on this side of heaven.

God’s order of business is and was very different from mine. In his life 2000+ years ago, Jesus spent much time with the “sinners”– prostitutes, tax collectors, and lepers. Jesus touched the untouchable, healed the sick, loved the dead and then rose them, and preached messages of love and grace so startling and counter-cultural that he was eventually murdered for it.

Following Jesus is not safe. It is not comfortable. It is scary and terrifying, and it means being pushed. As much as Jesus is soft and loving, he is a hard hitter. Those who are called to him must lose their lives to save it. Following Jesus involves death to self before we can truly live.

When I think about Jesus in a contemporary context, I wonder: where would Jesus if he was back in human flesh right now?

I believe he would be with victims of human trafficking, with the woman who was just diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, (here’s where I get controversial here) mourning alongside the LGBTQ community, crying with them over their oppression. He would be out on the picket lines with Black Lives Matter Activists. He would be with the mentally and physically disabled. Jesus would believe that every single human being matters to God. He would weep with a family whose child died in a tragic accident.

Christians (and I include myself in this) are so quick to judge certain people as “out.” I’ll be frank here– the church is not a safe place for transgender teens, prostitutes, and the LGBT community, by and large. There is so much stigma and emphasis placed on certain political issues– namely abortion and gay marriage– and I wonder if the American church is missing it.

I also wonder if in the upside-down kingdom of God, those who are “out” are really “in,” and those who are “in” are “out.” This is one of my favorite passages from Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel:

“Because salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that among the countless number of people standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands (see Revelation 7:9), I shall see the prostitute from the Kit-Kat Ranch in Carson City, Nevada, who tearfully told me that she could find no other employment to support her two-year-old son. I shall see the woman who had an abortion and is haunted by guilt and remorse but did the best she could faced with grueling alternatives; the businessman besieged with debt who sold his integrity in a series of desperate transactions; the insecure clergyman addicted to being liked, who never challenged his people from the pulpit and longed for unconditional love; the sexually abused teen molested by his father and now selling his body on the street, who, as he falls asleep each night after his last ‘trick’, whispers the name of the unknown God he learned about in Sunday school.

‘But how?’ we ask.

Then the voice says, ‘They have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’

There they are. There *we* are – the multitude who so wanted to be faithful, who at times got defeated, soiled by life, and bested by trials, wearing the bloodied garments of life’s tribulations, but through it all clung to faith.

My friends, if this is not good news to you, you have never understood the gospel of grace.”

What I have come to see is that all humans are holy to God. In the upside-down Kingdom, God stands against oppression and stands up for the vulnerable, helpless members of our society. I am mesmerized by this Jesus– his love and grace that is so unconditional and piercing to the core, that one cannot do anything but worship.

God is the God of the oppressed.

But if I’m being honest, I love Jesus, and I love the upside down Kingdom of God, but sometimes I have problems with his church. I see the “health and wealth” gospel being preached, as well as narcissism, plagiarism, and sexism. I see evangelical leaders with six figure salaries and million dollar houses. There is even a reality show called Preachers of LA. Yeah that exists, and I have a major problem with it.

The Message Translation of Matthew 11:28-30, the passage that changed my life years earlier, says this, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I am burnt out on religion, especially during this election season. I am so tired of Bible thumping Christians endorsing racism and rape culture because a particular political candidate says he is “pro-life” (more accurate: “pro birth”). I am disgusted that some African American children I know are scared, legitimately scared for their lives, because of a particular candidate… and that candidate is favored by white evangelicals in the United States. What message is that sending to the country? The world? How are we as Christians being the salt of the earth and the light of the world when we endorse a candidate who says such vile things?

Jesus’ followers believed he was the King who would revolt against the Roman empire. Over and over, the disciples knew Jesus had access to power, and they wanted to get in on it. Jesus kept telling them, “No, you don’t get it.” Jesus’ message is not in beating people, berating them, calling them derogatory or insulting names on Twitter, and pathological narcissism. Jesus, if anyone, had the right to be narcissistic– after all, he was God.

But in Philippians 2:6-11, the early church wrote what is considered to be the earliest hymn in all of church history (emphasis mine):

(Jesus)

Who, being in very natureGod,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

The Jesus I know washes the feet of those who betrayed him.

The Jesus I know exerts righteous, holy anger on the injustices of his day.

The Jesus I know loves people from birth to grave, and beyond the grave.

The Jesus I know had EVERY RIGHT to kick the Romans out of office and exert his power as the Messiah, the King, the Son of God, and he chose not to. Jesus chose instead to die a plain, painful death, subverting the entire system of the world and turning humanity upside down.

Jesus spent most of his time with his disciples teaching them day in and day out, and again and again, we see in the Gospels: they didn’t get it.

2000+ years later, God calls us to be ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors for Christ, and in full disclosure, I don’t know how well we’re doing. Where are the Christians baking LGBT married couples’ wedding cakes? Where are the Christians attending Black Lives Matters protests? Where are the Christians welcoming Syrian Muslim refugees? Where are the Christians pursuing racial reconciliation?

I feel like my initial instinct to all the non-Christians, and non-white Christians I know, is to apologize. “I’m not like them,” I want to say. “I’m sorry,” I want to say. Part of me barely knows how to broach the subject– I am ashamed to call myself an evangelical Christian given the disgusting things I hear evangelicals saying about a narcissistic, racist, homophobic, classist candidate who could be President of the United States (God help us all).

When I look at Jesus, my anxiety melts away. Jesus wants to teach me the unforced rhythms of grace. I want to learn more and more about the upside down Kingdom of God. I want to first and foremost extend grace and peace to the people who Christians have cast “out,” and then (much harder for me) I must extend grace and peace to fellow Christians. I want to preach grace and reconciliation messages with my life and words. I feel the need to call out holy discomfort.

Even though it’s SO easy for me to point fingers, I need to start with myself: I am a sinner. I hold grudges, don’t forgive, and am disillusioned by the people who hold different political beliefs that I do.

I’ve struggled discerning my own resentments vs. what is holy, righteous anger?

I have no easy answers for this election season. I find myself farther and farther away from white evangelicals on so many issues, and yet I believe that Jesus is Lord.

I am a liberal Christian.

In this day in age, with the “religious right” being a thing (side question: why did that become a thing??), it seems like an anomoly. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, and I own a “Feel the Bern” t-shirt. I plan on voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election. I support Obamacare. I am pro-life but CONSISTENTLY pro-life (birth–> grave). I believe in welfare. I believe we are to be good stewards of our earth and endorse regulations to reverse climate change. I am pro-gay marriage and trans rights. I believe people should have access to birth control. I believe in mental health parity. The wealth inequality in this country DISGUSTS me. I support Donald Trump and other billionaires paying their fair share in taxes. I think there should be more regulations in gun possession. I am a pacifist. I think GMO’s should be labeled. Planned Parenthood is just fine. I have strong, liberal views about immigration. My beliefs are more in line with “democratic socialism.” Elizabeth Warren is my spirit animal, and Michelle Obama brings. it.

Is there room for someone like me in evangelicalism?

I belong to a few Facebook groups, such as, The Christian Left and Evangelicals for Bernie Sanders. My seminary friends are water in the desert. They post things that make my soul sing. Sadly, there are too few of us speaking up about the evil in this election. And there is much evil.

My prayer for Christians everywhere is to take a step back this election season and look for Jesus. I pray that we would be salt and light. I pray that we wouldn’t dismiss ANY political candidate’s racism, classism, homophobia, and outlandish, selfish, narcissistic, or sexist comments because those things ARE NOT OF GOD.

I pray for myself– that I wouldn’t roll my eyes every time I hear the term “religious right”; that I can forgive Republicans; that I can call out injustice without harboring anger; and first and foremost, that I would stay close to the least of these, the orphan, and the widow, even if it pisses other Christians off.